Here’s one of those quick answers I give sometimes on forums or newsgroups. I forget where I wrote this, and when, and what the specific question was – but it was something to do with rebuilding an index on a small table where data was constantly being deleted and inserted.
Another problem with high insert/delete rates appears with very small indexes.
If you have a table that is small but constantly recycles its space you may also find you have an index where the number of leaf blocks puts you close to the borderline between having blevel = 1 and blevel = 2. If the size crosses that border occasionally and the statistics are updated to reflect the change – which is quite likely for a table subject to lots of updates and deletes if you have automatic stats collection enabled – then execution plans could change, resulting in dramatic changes in performance.
The workaround is fairly obvious – don’t let Oracle collect stats automatically on that table, instead create a stats-collection strategy for eliminating the change in blevel. For example, keep the stats locked except when you run your own code to deal with the stats, making sure that you overwrite the index blevel with 1 even if it has just crossed the boundary to 2.
Footnote: the reason why a change from 1 to 2 is dramatic is because Oracle ignores the blevel in the optimizer arithmetic when it is set to 1; so the change from 1 to 2 actually has the impact of a change from zero to 2. Then the cost of a nested loop access is “cost of single access multiplied by number of times you do it” – so the sudden appearance of a 2 in the formula gives an increment in cost of “2 * number of times you visit the table” if your small table is the second table in a nested loop join – and suddenly a nested loop becomes much more expensive without a real change in the data size.
Footnote 2: it should be obvious that you don’t need to rebuild the index once you know what the problem is; but since we’re talking about a small index with a blevel that is usually 1 it probably won’t take more than a fraction of a second to rebuild the index and there’s a fair chance you can find a safe moment to do it. In terms of complexity the solution is just as simple as the stats solution – so you might as well consider it. The only thing you need to be careful about is that you don’t happen to rebuild the index at a time when the blevel is likely to be 2.
Footnote 3: For an example of the type of code that will adjust the blevel of an index see this URL. (Note, the example talks about copying stats from one place to another – but the principle is the same.)